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The sign of quality!

Cannon: What You Didn't Know
(An exclusive interview!)

 

Cannon Films - though it's long gone, its legend still lives on today. Any dyed-in-the-wool B movie fan will have at some time will have learned about some wacky happenings that came out of the company and the movies it made. Even those not familiar with the company name, or the names of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, will almost certainly know of a number of their movies. There were Chuck Norris movies like Firewalker and Hero And The Terror, Charles Bronson movies like 10 To Midnight and Murphy's Law, and assorted schlock like Revenge Of The Ninja, King Solomon's Mines, Salsa, Hercules, New Year's Evil, and many many more.

There have been a number of articles written about Cannon and Golan/Globus (newbies and veterans of Cannon films will find this article especially interesting.) Upon reading them, and watching the movies made by Cannon, it is likely that one will wonder just what was going on behind those closed doors. What was it like working there? As a stroke of good luck, I was able to find out myself by interviewing former Cannon employee Jim Bertges, who I previously interviewed about Demonwarp and FVI. Jim was generous enough to take the time to tell us what we've all wanted to know for years:


GREYWIZARD: How did you get hired by Cannon?

JIM BERTGES: I answered an ad in the trades. I had experience in Co-Op Advertising and they needed someone in that department. As it turned out, the head of Co-op was someone I had encountered over the years and knew me from our phone conversations. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and have a little bit of a connection.

G: What were your impressions of the company before you started working for them?

JB: For me Cannon was a step up from FVI. I was familiar with them through their many extravagant ads in the trades. They always seemed They actually went to the trouble to release a *director's cut* for this crazed sci-fi fest?!?!to have something going and their movies were far more impressive than the product at Film Ventures. They had real stars and comparatively big budgets. It seemed like they were an up and coming studio at the time.

G: How about once you'd been working there for several months?

JB: When I started working at Cannon, their offices were on Sunset Bl. in Hollywood, which wasn't the greatest of neighborhoods at the time, but it suited the operation. After I'd been there a while, I realized that I was involved in a kind of sleazy operation. This was confirmed when I met the head of distribution, a man of volatile temper who almost never spoke below a shout. However, the product was improving with films like Runaway Train and they had big plans. They even bought a new building in Beverly Hills. For about a year, things looked good (or at least like the folks in charge of the place knew what they were doing). After that, though we started sliding down hill.

G: Were there any perks to being a Cannon employee? Free movies? Free coffee? A bowling team? Anything?

JB: Perks at Cannon? Well, they paid for my parking space, does that count? There were Christmas bonuses at the end of the year and they had a nice kitchen set up, but there were no real employee perks. Hell, they didn't even screen their own movies for us. Anything you got from Cannon you had to
take yourself.

G: Did you ever get to meet Menahem Golan or Yoram Globus while you were at Cannon?

JB: I never actually met them face-to-face. Menahem used to love to parade any big shots around the brand new offices and show off his empire. I remember Finally on DVD with director's commentary! My life is now complete!seeing Menahem and Ted Turner walking the floors and Menahem pointing out all his minions. At the most I might have gotten a "Good Morning" or a nod in the elevator from either one of them. Yoram used to address us all at Christmas time, trying to encourage us with all their great plans for the upcoming year, but there was no interaction with the boys.

G: What did your co-workers think of them?

JB: I've never worked at a place that had more disrespect for the company officers. I guess they brought that on themselves by always promising far more than the could deliver. Although the nick name for Menahem and Yoram in the industry was the "Go-Go Boys", they were referred to internally by many of the employees as "Mo & Yo". Then, of course, there was that head of distribution, who was known to bring "company" to his office at lunchtime for a quickie or would send his secretary to chase down a particularly good looking woman who passed by his office in order to get her name and number. These guys generated their own disrespect.

G: Since Cannon wasn't exactly one of the major studios, how did they choose what movies to make and market with their more limited resources and funds?

JB: Those were strictly upper echelon decisions. They had a pretty good line of credit so they could finance films. They believed they could always make money on a Chuck Norris or Charles Bronson movie and they convinced their backers that was the case. However, they had a reputation around town for not paying their bills and had to do a lot of business on a cash up front basis. I know that Both Menahem and Yoram loved movies and wanted to do classy projects, but their taste seemed quite odd. For every Othello they made, there was a Roman Polanski's Pirates they'd pick up. Everything seemed to be just a little behind the times...they made Masters Of The Universe years after the popularity of the toy line had died. They had huge sets constructed for a version of Journey To The Center Of The Earth, but it was never filmed. They had the rights to Spiderman, but never actually made a movie with the character. There were a lot of strange decisions made.

[Note: Few people know this, but Journey To The Center Of The Earth was finished... sort of. The movie was pieced together with a quick shoot on the Alien From L.A. set and stock footage (including clips from The Delta Force!) and barely released on video. The finished results were so bad, Golan and Globus removed their names from the credits.]

G: Can you tell us any interesting stories about Cannon's stock players (which included Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson, and Michael Dudikoff)?

JB: The only story I know of came to me second hand. Who knew American ninjas were former Adidas models?On a new receptionist's first day, there was a phone call. The caller identified himself as Charlie and wanted to talk to Menahem, the receptionist put him on hold. She left him on hold for a few seconds too long and when she got back to him he ranted at her, "Do you know who I am? I'm Charles Bronson!" That was also that girl's last day on the job. Mr. Bronson saw to it.

G: Before you arrived, director Tobe Hooper had been signed up by Cannon and was their great hope. Though reportedly after Lifeforce and Invaders From Mars bombed greatly, things were not going well between Hooper and Cannon even before The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 started filming. What do you know about the flack going on behind the scenes?

JB: I wasn't privy to any of this stuff. But doesn't it seem odd to make a movie, that you eventually plan to sell to TV, where the main character walks around totally nude for most of the story?

G: Was the attitude of many of the executives at Cannon that they didn't
really care if the movie was bad, that it would end up making money after a world-wide release?


JB: I don't think they actually knew that most of these movies were bad. They felt there was something going for them, either the stars (Stallone in Cobra and Over The Top, Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson in everything else) or the genre (Invaders from Mars, Masters of the Universe, Invasion USA) or the veneer of class brought on by those associated with the films (John Frankenheimer for 52 Pick Up or Placido Domingo in Othello). My favorite quote from Menahem came whenever he was asked how he thought a picture would do at the box office, "Hundred Million dollars!" was his stock answer, no matter what the movie.

G: Obviously Cannon overspent on film production. While working there, did you see any examples of extravagant money-wasting in the inner workings of the company?

JB: The most obvious was the purchase of an entire building on Wilshire Bl. in Beverly Hills. The boys had great offices and high security (just in case of terrorist attacks). They lined the roof of the building with billboards for their current films which made it look like a giant video store. I really didn't notice anything else, the sure weren't over spending on my salary.

G: When you left Cannon in 1987, at the time did you feel you were getting out of a sinking ship just in time?

JB: Yes. I saw the writing on the wall and wanted to get out while the getting was good. I couldn't stand another bout of unemployment.

G: Cannon wasn't your last experience with Menahem Golan. You got involved with him again when you helped out with his lambada epic, The Forbidden Dance. You must have some interesting tales about this... uh... interesting movie...

JB: Now this one I know something about. After Menahem left Cannon he formed his own company, 21st Century Productions and he called upon the company I worked for, Design Projects Inc. to do his advertising campaigns. This was also the company that had produced Demonwarp and by the time we added Menahem to our client list we had also made Sight Unseen with Susan Blakely and Delta Heat with Lance Henricksen and Anthony Edwards. So, when the Lambada craze hit, Menahem contacted my boss, Rick Albert to produce a film to capitalize on it.

It ...and that's control of your bladder while in a swimming poolbecame urgent when the word got out that Yoram was also going to produce a Lambada film. The stories about this one are true, Rick contacted the screenwriters from Sight Unseen, Roy Langston and John Platt, and in the car on their way to Menahem's office they concocted a story line for the film to pitch. From that point in late December things were fast and furious and the film was shot, scored and edited and in theatres by March. Rick used Greydon Clark as Director because he had done Sight Unseen and he had also been a Design Projects client in the past. All the casting and editing was done in a vacant office next door to our DPI offices and our editor, Rob Edwards, got daily visits from Menahem. Menahem's best comment on the editing involved a shot where Rob cut to a guy as he stood up from a chair. Menahem told him, "Never cut to the balls!" Refering to the shot of the guy's crotch as he stood. I never understood his reasoning, but those words should be immortal in film history. Once again, as Menahem was going to observe the shooting of the climactic dance contest scene at a small studio in the San Fernando Valley, he was asked by a reporter how he thought this Lambada movie would do. His answer was inevitable: "Hundred Million Dollars!" Of course he was mistaken.

G: Would you ever, under any circumstances, work with Golan or Globus again?

JB: Only on a limited basis and if they paid upfront.

G: What would you advise anyone who is considering working with them on a new project?

JB: Get your money in advance, in cash if possible. If they give you a check, cash it quick, preferably before you start working.

G: Looking back at your days at Cannon years later, what do you have to say about your experience there?

JB: It's a good thing to look back on. It was pretty miserable being there mainly because my desk was located in an open area next to the office of the head of distribution which made me a target of his anger and pet projects. I'm glad I had the experience and some of it was fun, but I sure wouldn't do it again, unless I was desperate.
 

My deepest appreciation to Jim for this interview!
 

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